Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Top Streams in Isle of Wight County, VA

01 Feb 23:

A nice compilation of waterways in our new locale, with GPS coordinates: 

Top Streams in Isle of Wight County, Virginia

We have quite a few places to muck about in our new area, who knew there were so many creeks and swamps out here? We've been on Burwell's Bay, James River a few times, and there are ramps nearby for three of the creeks on the list, which lead into some of the other creeks. Maybe we can check out all of them, but the last on the list are Rattlesnake Swamp and Tormentor Creek.

We'll be watching the tide chart!

Cypress Creek near Smithfield Station.

One interesting part of our research, in the early 1800s there were proposals to connect the top of the Pagan River with the inland Blackwater River that runs down the County's western border, using a canal. This would have connected inland trade to both the James River and down the Blackwater-Chowan to Albermarle Sound. They only needed 10 miles of canal to do it, but it never happened. Had they done so, they would have made this part of SE Virginia and NE North Carolina an Island. A few decades later the railroads started laying track everywhere and waterway trade began to dry up. Trivia: Norfolk, VA is an island.

Pagan River - Blackwater River Canal

FMI: Smithfield Seaport

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Herreshoff Pram

29 Jan 23:

Herreshoff Pram


Smithfield Seaport

29 Jan 23:

January has not been slow for us, but maybe a little slow on the small boat news. We have had fun this month exploring Smithfield, Virginia and learning more about its seaport heritage. We have created a companion blog to document the maritime history of the area through analysis of physical artifacts and recorded personal histories. 

Prior to the Jamestown Expeditions the local waters were inhabited by the First People. The Native Americans knew this area as Warascoyak, also spelled Warrosquoyacke, meaning "point of land." from 1624 until the mid 1900s, Hampton Roads, the James and Pagan Rivers and numerous creeks created access to the thriving seaport of Smithfield, until roads became the preferred method of transportation. 

A disastrous fire in 1921 destroyed the warehouse waterfront. Driving through modern day Smithfield it may be hard to imagine the hustle and bustle of the waterfront from centuries ago, when large schooners brought in trade items from other Colonial and European seaports, then departed with cargo holds full of lumber, ham, peanuts, produce and other materials. Many inhabitants of the town were mariners in those times or dealt in the maritime trades, but very few today practice that trade today.

We plan to explore more of modern day Smithfield and Isle of Wight County by small boat, which will tie back in to this blog, but for today we'll point you towards the sister blog Smithfield Seaport.

Skipper and Clark 


Sunday, January 22, 2023

The Rudder Magazine Boat Building Plans and Books

22 Jan 23:

Many of the small boat plans from the early 20th Century are still germane today. The Rudder published a nice index of those plans and books in 1938.

One of the boats that caught our eye is the Sea Mew.

Chesapeake Bay Deck Boats

 22 Jan 23:

Chowning, Larry. Chesapeake Bay Deck Boats. Arcadia Publishing.

Another good book to have on the shelf when you live in the Mid Atlantic area. Larry Chowning is a local who has many photos of his own to go along with those of his Chesapeake friends.

FMI: Library

Chesapeake Bay Steamers

 22 Jan 23: 

For those wanting a little more information on steamboat traffic on the Chesapeake, here's a nice little book, published by Arcadia.

 22 Jan 23:

Saw this advertisement and will be on the lookout for one. Then we'd like to loan it to Webb Chiles and see if the advertising claims hold true.

FMI: Wilcox, Crtitenden and Co., Inc.

These Are a Few of Our Favorite Things

 22 Jan 23:

We like boats and we like trains. We especially like old boats and old trains back in days of steam power. Here's a photo from a while back of the steamboat MEMPHIS waiting to take Southern Railway train passengers across the Elizabeth River, back and forth between Portsmouth VA and Norfolk. 

For those who didn't know it, Norfolk is an island, even modern day we must take a bridge, tunnel or boat to get from the mainland. The good tug MEMPHIS alternated between passenger runs and moving train car barges across the river. 

FMI: Southern Railway

Ceramic File

 22 Jan 23:

We have found this ceramic tile file to be useful on wood projects. It has a flat on one side and half round on the other. The first two we had were Kobalt brand, as is this on. Originally we found them in Lowes stores but lately we've only seen them online.

Saturday, January 21, 2023


 21 Jan 23:

We got an email from a gent wanting to know if we had a pattern for a Drascombe Dabber tiller. As it turns out we did. Fortunately we took time to take a few measurements and trace out paper patterns of the rudder, tiller, oars, centerboard and a few other bits...mast, mizzen mast, bowsprit, bumpkin.

Sometimes we make plywood templates or wood shapes, for the Dabber we took the time to make a centerboard pattern and wood shape for the bowsprit.

Boat Yard Flower Bed Borders

20 Jan 23:

Our landscape crew brought in some cedar mulch, and Skipper said to have them put some around the  two pecan trees where we had daffodils last year. That simple order kicked off a little project of extending the border stone around the pecan tree next to Lewis Boat Works and creating a new bed around the other pecan.

The retaining wall blocks are inexpensive and fun to work with, we have used tons of them in California, Texas, Arizona, Texas again, Florida and now the Mid-Atlantic. We get the ground smoothed out and put down a thin pea gravel base as needed to work as drainage and a leveling base. For this bed below we tied into the border around the shed and worked our way around the tree towards the deck step. Border stone was also used as the piers for the deck and steps, so we used the top of the stone under the step as our target for where we wanted to top of the tree ring to tie in. A level and a long, mostly straight board come in handy to check each stone for the proper height as the stone is laid, kind of like marking a waterline. Since the ground slopes away a little, the first few stones to the right were dug in a few inches, and the last few stones by the step needed a little pea gravel "shim."

15 yards of cedar mulch, a decent size dump truck load, was brought in to top off the flower beds, a few mulch rings and our forest trail. We like cedar or cypress shredded mulch because it deters ticks, which don't like the smell or texture. 

We have found that we can raise a block by almost half of its height with pea gravel. Once the ground slopes away more than that we dig in a lower course of blocks. For this run the lower course started where the tree ring curves away from the shed border. Dirt that we dig out gets used under and around blocks that end up above grade. The blocks will shift a little over time, but it is easy to adjust them.

50 blocks times 20 pounds each, into and out of the wagon, plus a little shovel work,  equals a nice workout. These stone projects also get the creative juices flowing.

We leave air gaps under the shed and deck, it would not be good to have moisture retaining mulch up against the wood. The circle was laid out by using our garden rake to scribe a rake wide arc around the base of the tree. And speaking of creative juices, while studying the step (s) we decided it would be good to continue the step all of the way around the deck, it will help reduce the chance of stepping off in the wrong spot and make a good spot for container pots.

As for the yard, last year was spent grading a nice slope away from the house towards the forested area and installing sprinklers. This year we hope to get some cool weather grass growing, it will give us some green during Spring and Fall. 

The blocks serve a few more purposes, they create a trimming edge and retain the mulch. The also help delineate where I should pull trailers and where I shouldn't...not that I ever hit a tree if Florida with my car before...Don't worry, the 70 foot pine tree won. And now you're wondering... I was backing a trailer, and turning, and caught the tree with the passenger side door. Pro Tips: Friends don't let friends back and turn trailers around trees. 

The daffodils must have heard Skipper talking, because a few of them are are already popping up. We've had a mild Winter and some temps in the 70s, but Spring here occurs much later than it does in Gulf Coast Florida. 

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Sailfish 14 Deluxe

 19 Jan 23: 

A very unusual Alcort Sailfish, the wooden 14 foot deluxe version. For one year or so, around 1952, Alcort offered coamings on the flat decked Sailfish, one option being the long sweeping coaming. During this time period they also offered solid color sails of red, white blue or yellow to match hulls of the same color. 

Albury Brothers Runabout

 19 Jan 23:

The 19 foot Albury Brothers Runabout, inspired by runabouts in the Bahamas, was designed by Doug Hylan. It has caught our eye several times, so we ordered plans to study.

(Image Credit: Hylan and  Brown)

Master photographer Benjamin Mendlowitz out in his Albury with Maynard Bray at the helm.

(Image credit: Maine Boats)

Herreshoff Cleat

 19 Jan 23:

Not sure what boat we'll use this bronze Herreshoff cleat on, the Nutshell maybe? In any case the price was right. 

Rat Tail File

19 Jan 23:

We balance our tool budget by picking up second hand tools at vintage markets. We bought this one primarily for the handle, but as a bonus the file is still in good shape.

Monday, January 16, 2023


 16 Jan 23: 

Seems if we want to have a luxury yacht all we need to do is start up a little railroad, using some of our spare oil baron money. It would be a good tender for our small boat Armada.

"Kanawha was a 471-ton steam-powered luxury yacht initially built in 1899 for millionaire industrialist and financier Henry Huttleston Rogers (1840–1909). One of the key men in the Standard Oil Trust, Rogers was one of the last of the robber barons of the Gilded Age in the United States. Rogers was a major developer of coal and railroad properties in West Virginia along the Kanawha River. Aboard the Kanawha, he frequently hosted his friends, including American humorist Mark Twain and black educator Booker T. Washington."

What is more interesting about KANAWHA is her second and third careers.


American Small Sailing Craft by Howard L. Chapelle

16 Jan 23:

Chapelle, Howard L.. American Small Sailing Craft. 

American Small Sailing Craft by Howard L. Chapelle has been an excellent reference over time for the fun research we have done, especially the 1880s Mississippi River Skiff BARBASHELA. 

FMI: Small Boat Library

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Surry, Sussex and Southhampton Railway

 14 Jan 2023:

It can't be boats all the time, can it? We need some balance, so how about we talk about trains and sawmills?! A 3 foot narrow gauge ran nearby from the late 1800s until 1930, the Surry, Sussex and Southhampton Railway. The railway was started to support the Surry Lumber Company, and part of its charter from the State included freight and passenger service. 

The money part of the company was out of Baltimore, MD while the field headquarters was in Dendron, VA. One end of the line ended on the Scotland Wharf, James River, where the Jamestown-Scotland ferry crossed. Large schooners and later steamships loaded lumber for ports up the James, Chesapeake and all points East. Here SS&S #2, Baldwin Vauclain Compound, waits to run back up the hill around the wye and pick up the mail train.

#2 was the second #2, the first was scrapped when the railway folded, but the bell is still ringing at the Dendron Museum. Skipper field tested it today.

The Dendron sawmill grew to be the largest sawmil East of the Mississippi, with a thriving lumber town springing up around it. Today, its residents number just over 200. While much of the equipment was sold to other industries, a few artifacts remain, one being a steam engine from the saw mill.

One of the SS&S boxcars was lovingly restored by a Dendron family, after spending a few decades as a corn crib.

(Image Credit: WR, Dendron Museum)

The photos inside the boxcar chronicle the restoration, all image credits to WR of the Museum. 

Many of the SS&S car bodies and log cars were built on site, with the undercarriages shipped in by the railway. There was no shortage of lumber. 

There is some rail to start a new railway...

...and a combination baggage/freight car and R.P.O to rebuild. It served as a cottage for decades until 2003, when it was damaged by Hurricane Isabell. More on a restoration effort soon. 

(Image: The Comp'ny by H. Temple Crittenden. 1967.
Available for sale through the Surry County Historical Society)